Exercise and your senses: Cognition and Cognitive Function
Most of us have felt the positive effects of exercise. It aids weight loss, increases endurance, strength and improves mobility. It wards off disease and reduces inflammation. It compensates for lifestyle overindulgence and slows the ageing process. These factors are just some of the many physical effects of exercise. We also go for a walk or run to ‘clear’ our heads. But what does this really mean for us mentally, or neurologically? It is not just a restorative process! There is a myriad of nifty benefits that exercise provides our cognitive functions. Read below for this month’s post concerning memory and spatial cognition and the effects of balance training in your workout.
We know that the brain is boosted by exercise as it improves function and size of an area of the brain called the hippocampus. The H-camp is responsible for memory, spatial orientation and cognition or our ‘ability’ to learn. Yes, you heard it, regular exercise actually changes our brains. We also know exercise reduces the risk of mental decline as it slows gray matter volume loss. There is a lot of research focused on walking (or cardiorespiratory activity) as the exercise that benefits memory and neurological growth. But, there is also a turn towards uncovering how the vestibular system plays a role in changing our brain and other types of exercise.
Enter balance training! This type of exercise improves memory and spatial cognition even more so than cardiovascular training. This is partly because in exercise styles like yoga, dancing and coordination training, our attention to motion and balance is more considered. Here, you are more likely to work on one leg, regularly adjust your posture and complete actions that cause you to shift your weight and re-stabilise. Furthermore, as your skills improve, you progress into more complex poses, combinations and flows. You might also incorporate balance exercises into your regular gym workout to increase you cognitive state. So mix it up and get on that wobble board while you’re swinging kettle bells!
Through a focus on inversions, exercise like yoga and aerial yoga is especially connected to our vestibular sense and body’s spatial ‘awareness.’ This ties into the sense of proprioception, which essentially helps us to be physically coordinated and not accidentally bump into things. It also facilitates our ability to process personal space, reducing the likelihood of becoming a dreaded ‘close talker.’
These cognitive changes can be felt with the right type of exercise in as little as 12 weeks. Cross-training is a great way to tweak your workout. So chat with your South Pac trainer at your next 8 week check-in to see what balance orientated exercises will work best for you. So whether you attend a yoga studio in Chadstone or Mentone don’t forget that yoga and dance is not just strength and mobility enhancing, it helps to forge valuable neural pathways. This ultimately will assist you to remember where you left your keys, and the ability to pick them up, once you’ve found your way back to them.